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We must accept that any military action, however proportionate to need, runs the risk of casualties. I do not shrink from asserting that we should always be calculating and cautious about putting the lives of other people's sons and daughters at risk by inviting them to take military action on behalf of the United Kingdom. We should never make such a decision unless we are satisfied in the exercise of a considered judgment that it is necessary. It seems that it may be necessary now. It appears that our armed forces may truly have to be committed not only in the short term but in the long term. In either case, they are entitled to know that they go not only with our gratitude but with our prayers.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which I thought was balanced and reasonable. I welcome especially the prominence that he gave to alleviating the plight of the Afghan people.
I accept that the perpetrators of the unspeakable atrocities in New York and Washington must be found and brought to justice. Their funding and other networks must be wound up, and those who harbour them must be obliged to hand them over. If that leads to the fall of the Taliban, no one will be happier than me. The danger that the lunatics will strike again is real and it must be faced.
On the plight of the people of Afghanistan, I say to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and to anyone who has any influence in this situation: have mercy upon the people of Afghanistan, who during the past 22 years have endured the unendurable. Our immediate priority should not be to start bombing anybodylet Osama bin Laden stew for a whilebut to ensure that food and health care is available to the 6 million, 7 million or however many millions of people whose plight is so desperate.
I welcome the restraint that has been shown so far, but nothing will do more to undermine the international coalition that is being so painstakingly assembled than the sight on our television screens throughout the winter of starving people in Afghanistan. As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, nothing will do more to undermine the stability of Pakistan than playing host to hundreds of thousands or millions of people who are starving on its doorstep, and who may not sit idly by while they are starving.
Secondly, as I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, we must not abandon the people of Afghanistan to the tender mercies of the warlords, the so-called Northern Alliance. They had their chance. They occupied Kabul. It was their inability to stop feuding and their complete lack of interest in the welfare of their people that led to the rise of the Taliban.
I was glad to hear what my right hon. Friend said about considering the possibility of a UN protectorate. In my view, that is the way forward. A protectorate was applied for a period in Cambodia, but not for long enough. The
Thirdly, we should not start what we cannot finish. I heard Henry Kissinger on the radio the other day sayingand he should knowthat Americans do not always think through the consequences of their actions. He can say that again. We do not have to think back very far to the encouragement that was given, and perhaps the support, in the wake of the Gulf war to the uprising by the Shia people in the south of Iraq, who were then abandoned to the mercies of Saddam Hussein. By God, they were butchered.
At various times in the past, in both Iraq and Iran, attempts have been made to encourage uprisings by the Kurdish people. Then the line in Washington changed, people there got bored, their attention wandered elsewhere and other priorities arose, and the Kurdish people were left behind to be butchered. I do not want to see our Prime Minister, who has handled himself magnificently so far, being forced to justify the unjustifiable in the months to come.
I shall say a word about anti-terrorism laws, a matter to which we shall no doubt return, and in which the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which I have the honour to chair, will be taking a close interest. I have an open mind. If there are loopholes that prevent us from effectively fighting terrorism and which need closing, fine. However, there is in this country a long history of anti-terrorism legislation which has been rushed through in haste and repented at leisure. I hope that we will think carefully about any proposed changes.
I heard someoneit might have been the Leader of the Oppositionsuggesting that it might be a good idea if the Home Secretary had the power to exclude people solely on the basis of intelligence. I think back again to the Gulf war and remember that, solely on the basis of what was alleged at the time to be impeccable intelligence, many Iraqi people who lived in this country and in the main ran take-away shops were rounded up and put in Pentonville. There was talk of sending them back to Iraq, where God knows what would have happened to them. After it was all over, every single one of them was quietly released, because the quality of the intelligence was found to be so dismal. Some of those people were my constituents, so I am familiar with the precise detail in those cases. It makes me nervous when I hear such proposals.
On ID cards, I am glad that we are not going forward too fast. There may be a case for ID cards. I do not rule it out, but the case must be made. Work has been done on the matter in the past. Under the previous Conservative Government, the Home Affairs Committee considered ID cards, and concluded that they would not work and would cost an awful lot of money. There may well be better things to do with £1 billion than introduce a not very effective system of ID cards. I could be persuaded, but I would have to be persuaded, as would many hon. Members in all parts of the House.
Finally, I shall briefly address the bigger picture, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife did a moment ago. As he said, the plight of the people of Palestine is not an excuse for terrorism. No one suggests that. As he also said, no one questions the right of Israel to exist. However, it is no use ringing up Ariel Sharon and telling him to exercise restraint for a few weeks while we assemble a fragile coalition, if we let him carry on as he has been doing as soon as the immediate crisis is over. We must recognise that the running sore in the middle east is the background to almost everything that has happened
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): I know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who has just sat down prematurely, will understand if I do not pursue some of the interesting and characteristically thoughtful points that he was raising. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence, who is in his place, will respond fully.
I particularly agreed with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South when he said that, to date, the Prime Minister's actions have been magnificent. It is right that those of us on the Opposition Benches fully acknowledge that the Prime Minister's role, not just in this country but internationally, has been what the people of this country have a right to expect from their Prime Minister. We will continue to give him our full support in all that he is doing.
In the few minutes available to me, I shall address the issue of international terrorismthe subject of this important debate, which has rightly led to the return of the House. If there are lessons to be learned from the dreadful events of 11 September, one of them must be that terrorism is wrong from wherever it comes. It can never be justified, least of all in a democratic country where every citizen has equal voting rights and where there is an independent judiciary, a free press and absolutely no excuse for resorting to violence rather than the ballot box. The House will realise that I am referring to a particular part of the United KingdomNorthern Ireland.
As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the distinguished leader of the Ulster Unionist party, mentioned in his intervention, sadly the Provisional IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, have not, as we all hoped when the Belfast agreement was signed, given up violence for good or their links with international terrorism.
The whole House was shocked and disappointed when the Colombian authorities arrested three members of the Provisional IRA in that part of Colombia which is controlled by the narco-terrorists from FARC. Among the Provisional IRA men who were arrested was the Sinn Fein representative in Havana. They were all highly placed within the movement. To my mind, that drives a coach and horses through the possibility that Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA will fulfil their obligations under the Belfast agreement.